August 2011

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work to inspire Someone You Should Know: Wendy Simyab By Elishah Oesch The Jefferson Awards started more than 30 years ago in an effort to recognize the dedication and service of volunteers who trans- form lives and strengthen communities nationwide. This month, meet Wendy Simyab, the recipient of the Jefferson Award in Wisconsin. It's 10 a.m. and from the parking lot outside of the not-for- profit Kindred Kids, you can see two things: First, a number of wheelchair-accessible cars, and second, parents and kids bustling through the door to see one of their favorite people, Wendy Simyab. At first glance, Simyab, much like her shop, doesn't seem particu- larly different. But after watching her welcome visitors with a sweet smile and kind eyes, you begin to realize this is someone special in a way unlike many others. Simyab is a mother of five and the founder of Kindred Kids, an organization dedicated to providing equipment and toys to families with kids who have special needs—something Simyab knows about first hand. "My youngest is 5 and she has cerebral palsy," Simyab explains. "[People] say things to me like, 'you're so blessed to have her' or 'she is so blessed to have you,' but the reality is families that have kids with special needs are no different than any other family. They just have to sometimes work harder." It's a commitment to perseverance Simyab knows all about. She volunteers at the organization she founded every day and night, expecting nothing in return. Her mission—providing a place where families like hers can get necessities while feeling loved and accepted—is also her passion. "I really feel like a lot of these kids don't have a voice," Simyab says. Simyab says kids with special needs often have no place to go where they're treated like any other kid, and the same is true of their parents. Friend, and fellow mother to a child with special needs, Melissa Schenk, knows that reality all too well. "The stares, the looks—you explain to people what's going on but some people just don't get it," she says honestly. "They do here." Something else they "get" at Kindred Kids? Just how important up-to-date equipment is for children with special needs, as well as how expensive the items can be. A chair to help a child stand up sells for thousands of dollars. Consider that over time a child will Nonprofit Profile: Kindred Kids What it is: A resale store and lending library of toys, books and equipment for kids of all ages and abilities. How it operates: A selec- tion of clothing for babies, children and maternity are available at resale prices. Toys can be checked out for $5 a month by anyone. Funds 36 BRAVA Magazine August 2011 raised buy equipment for kids with special needs, who can check out toys, along with a range of items from wheelchairs to communica- tion devices, free. How you can help: Tax- deductible donations of gently used clothing and toys are needed, along with volunteers for a range of projects. Location: 951 W. James St., Columbus Contact: (608) 438-5844 or outgrow the piece, meaning a larger (and more expensive) one must be purchased, and you can see how it becomes a burden on any budget. "Insurance doesn't pay for everything, so there are things that you need that you don't get," says Schenk. At Kindred Kids, families can walk through the door and find the equipment they need for their child—for free. Thanks to donations and Simyab's effort, everything from wheelchairs to walkers and more are available. It's a relief for families struggling to pay medical bills, let alone purchase equipment for their kids. More importantly, Kindred Kids is a space where everyone can see there is no such thing as "normal" or "different." There are only people, living life the best they know how while caring for each other along the way. It's a journey Simyab is determined to continue advocating for through Kindred Kids, and through her own strength of spirit and heart. "My greatest hope would be that this would lead to a platform where we can get the word out about what we do and find more people that are passionate about kids," she says. ••• Elishah Oesch is co-anchor of WKOW27's Wake Up Wisconsin. Nominate a local individual at Photos by David King

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